National elections are upon us and the contesting political parties are seeking the vote of every adult Vincentian. Sport is an integral part of the national development process, not a mere adjunct to it.
Vincentian sportspeople must therefore take the time to ensure that they have a say in what happens with sport in this country.
The time has come for our sportspeople to reflect on what has happened in respect of the national sport development process over the life of the current political administration and determine for themselves whether they can feel satisfied with what has been on offer.
On the even of the pending general elections it is extremely important that our sportspeople take time to review what is the scorecard of the government that has been in office since 2001.
Ministers of Sport
For the past several years the government has played games with sport.
At the highest level where we expect leadership and policy formation, the government has proven itself exceedingly weak.
Some may recall that at one time sport was located under the Ministry of Education. Two ministers were attached to the Ministry – Mike Browne and Clayton Burgin. Reflection on the performance of the two ministers would reveal that there was no significant advance in physical education and sport. There are no legacy items to which we can point to indicate that they made an impact on the sporting landscape of this country.
Indeed, it may well be appropriate to say that during the period of the two ministers in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, it was impossible to determine who was really responsible for Sport.
Glen Beache was later handed the sport portfolio only to be rid of it almost without his knowledge. Some suggest that Beache may well have heard of the removal of the sport portfolio on the radio. The poor fellow was not in the position long enough to get to know what was happening in sport in the country far less to make an impact on it.
Minister Stephenson also once held the sport portfolio. It did not stay with him very long and he never really seemed happy with it.
The appointment of Cecil McKie to the portfolio of sport has yielded nothing different from what obtained under his predecessors. Perhaps the thinking was that people who practised sport at some time earlier in life would somehow almost automatically make good ministers of sport. This proved not to be the case over the past several years here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The national volleyball fraternity has been waiting for years to have McKie prepare a facility in his constituency to locate an outdoor volleyball court, provided by the continental governing body for the sport, there. In the case of the first court the organisation received from its parent body, the local association could wait no longer and eventually located where it should have gone anyway, at the Girls’ High School.
The second court has been in storage for several months, much to the chagrin of the continental organisation that may well now seriously give consideration to recalling the facility for failure to use it for the development of the sport in the country. It seems that McKie has thus far been unable to prepare the foundation that is required. One is not certain whether McKie has been unable to access funding from the $6.5m that the NLA borrowed from the NIS to develop the nation’s sport infrastructure.
Perhaps McKie’s only legacy would be the summary dismissal of then manager of the National Sports Council, Cecil Charles, by the organisation’s Board.
National Sport Policy
In 2001 the newly elected government facilitated a review of the national sport policy. A few change shad been made. Unfortunately, many involve din sport were of the opinion that the process was the start of a commitment on the part of the new regime to really usher in a new dispensation. Few at the time considered that this was only part of a sort of public relations strategy and nothing more.
Over the past 15 years the national sport policy has been of little benefit to national sport organisations and their stakeholders beyond the waiver of duties n sport equipment.
Vincentians have witnessed the imposition of duties on medals and trophies procured by national sports associations for use in their own activities.
Our associations have been informed that duties are to be paid on uniforms procured from abroad for use by the athletes, coaches and team officials engaged in representing St Vincent and the Grenadines across the world.
One is not at all certain that some of the members of Cabinet have ever taken the time to read the national sport policy.
There is no understanding of the concept of physical literacy and therefore of the role of this concept in the broader location of physical activity and sport in the lives of Vincentians.
For the most part the government has operated in a manner where these twin disciplines are perceived as individual pastimes.
We should not be surprised therefore that physical education was placed on the secondary school curriculum only after the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) elevated it to the status of an examinable subject. Thus it is the only subject that can be taken up at the secondary school level without any antecedent introduction at the earlier levels of a child’s education programme.
Despite repeated appeals physical education is not included on the syllabuses of the pre and primary schools of St Vincent and the Grenadines yet the same students who have passed through the system are expected to become proficient in sport. This is a hit or miss approach to introducing children to sport.
The National Sports Council has been an ineffective organisation delightfully focused on cricket without much consideration really being given to the other sports using the same facilities.
Around the country, the first thing being place don any new sport facility is a cricket wicket. That done, the other sports are expected to fend for themselves should they desire to use the same facility for their developmental thrust.
The staff at the NSC has been well trained in the preparation of the cricket wicket for each week’s cricket matches. They have never been trained to prepare the sport facilities for any other discipline.
The reality of the past several years is that there has been no real paradigm shift in the implementation of the national sport policy beyond mere lip service.
The government has been unable to determine just how it should provide leadership in sport in the country. This is certainly not surprising given the seeming failure to address the national sports policy.
The so-called tripartite meetings are without any focus. To begin with the reference to a tripartite meeting is ridiculous since no one has ever been able to say which are the three parties involved. There are several organisations involved in the meeting as stakeholders that make a mockery of the traditional definition of tripartite.
No one knows how the tripartite meeting fits into any sort of national sport structure. There is no schedule of meetings that forms part of a calendar of activities on the part of the government. Meetings are therefore called at the whims and fancies of the substantive Minister of Sport.
Agendas for the tripartite meetings are inadequately prepared so that the meetings are essentially lacking focus and as ineffective as it is inefficient.
Minutes are rarely provided of the meetings thereby rendering it extremely difficult for any determination of what actions should flow from each meeting.
Indeed, each meeting of the so-called Tripartite Committee is a sort of fresh start.
It is doubtful whether the Minister of Sport can speak with any degree of confidence on the vision, mission and objectives of the so-called Tripartite Commission. Not surprisingly therefore it is impossible for him to delineate the achievements of the body.
The ruling regime’s manifesto for the 2001 highlighted the importance that sort would play once in office. The youth manifesto placed great emphasis on the construction of a national stadium. However, the commitment did not appear to go farther than suggest that once in government the regime would seek funding to construct a national stadium. In this sense therefore, our sportspeople could well claim that the party never promised to deliver a stadium, they only really committed to seeking the funds to engage in its construction.
Indeed, closer analysis reveals the startling fact that the government never really sought to utilise its own resources to work on the stadium project. It appears that the emphasis was always on awaiting some fairy godfather to provide the funding. Not surprisingly therefore the matter was raised with the Libyan government, then under the leadership of the now deceased, Muammar Gaddafi.
Initially, approximately $4m was procured from Libya to start the process of procuring a national stadium. For years the government’s estimates and budget documents flagged Libya as the source of funding for the stadium. No other source was identified.
No further monies were however obtained from Libya for the project and no other sources were tapped. So much for the keen interest in and love for the sportspeople of this country, especially those that would have benefitted immensely from the construction of a national stadium!
The decision to commence work on an international airport threw the national stadium project off the political radar of the government. The keen interest shown in the sportspeople of the nation in the manifesto of 2001 seemed to fade out of existence.
Perhaps the greatest travesty was the announcement, several years later, that the national stadium would begin construction following the completion of the airport at Argyle. The explanation was that the construction work at Argyle required the procurement of significant heavy equipment. Once the airport was completed therefore, all of the equipment would be available for the construction of the national stadium.
The youths engaged in football and track and field athletics have been left languishing in hope that they will, one day, benefit from a national stadium constructed by a government that genuinely understands the importance of such a facility to national development.
Discussions in respect of the possible location of a synthetic track and Sion Hill began but Minister McKie remained insistent that the primary interest was in getting the national stadium at Brighton.
Those in support of a synthetic track and Sion Hill argued that the location was ideal in so far as population concentration was concerned; that the number of schools just a few minutes away in Kingstown, would have ready access each day and therefore enjoy immense benefits from heavy utilisation of the facility.
There was also an argument that with the closing of the ET Joshua Airport Arnos Vale could easily be transformed into the sporting capital of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Football remains our most popular national sport. Everywhere in the country this sport is practised. It is a most shameful fact that this country’s footballers have had to grudgingly seek use of the Arnos Vale Sports Complex for its games in the 2018 World Cup Preliminaries, as has been the case since its involvement in the preparatory exercise for the World Cup of 1994.
Talk of a national stadium has yielded nothing if only because of a genuine lack of commitment.
The government of the day has not seen the construction of a national stadium enough of a priority for the nation’s youths to find the requisite resources to allocate to this undertaking. One could hazard a guess that had the Libyans continued to provide the funding that we may have seen the project realised.
The Minister’s response was that the government had already agreed on the construction of a commercial city at Arnos Vale and that a stadium would not be part of the plans.